'I don't want my son to die,': Mom, lawsuit claim Colo. is withholding Hep C treatment from inmates

Posted at 3:50 PM, Jul 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-21 11:26:12-04

AURORA, Colo. -- A Colorado mother believes state officials are knowingly letting her son die.

On Wednesday, a lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of four inmates, accuses the state of deliberately withholding treatment from inmates who have chronic Hepatitis C.

According to the ACLU, the cost of withholding the treatment can, long-term, exceed the cost of treatment itself -- about $50,000 per inmate.

MORE | Learn additional details about the lawsuit from Denver7's Wednesday story.

"When it comes to him being sick, I'm the Mama Bear -- I'm going to protect my son," Olen Olson said.

Her son, Joseph DeAguero, is incarcerated at the Arrowhead Correctional Center in Canon City for assault.

Olson said he has a chronic case of Hepatitis C that is not being effectively treated by prison staff.

The disease attacks the liver and can be life-threatening.

"I don't want my son to die," Olson said.  "And that's what would happen if he doesn't receive treatment. He will die."

DeAguero is not one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, but Olson had been in contact with the ACLU prior to the organization filing the case.

The lawsuit said there are roughly 2,000 Colorado inmates who have Hepatitis C. Of those, the state confirms they've treated 80 since July 2015 using newer medications that have proven to be effective nationally.

"Granted, my son's in prison because of something he did," Olson said. "All the inmates are in there for something they did. But does that mean they're not entitled to receive medical care?  I think they are."

The ACLU argues that they are indeed entitled to care under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Legalities aside, the organization and Olson argue that if inmates are left untreated, they will cost more to treat once the disease worsens and will pose a risk to other people once they're released from prison.

Hepatitis C is contagious. According to medical websites, it's typically spread through sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. It can also spread by having sex, sharing toothbrushes, razor blades or nail clippers.

"It could be them," Olson said of the public as a whole. "It could be them."

Prison officials said Wednesday, in part, that, "Although these new pharmaceuticals are groundbreaking and effective, we have developed and implemented policy to assess treatment needs alongside appropriated resources.